There’s a new BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee — and here’s who is on it

There’s a new Federal Aviation Administration committee out there. The FAA in June announced its new BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) as part of its 6th annual FAA Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Symposium, which was held in June 2021.

The committee was created to help the FAA develop a regulatory path for routine Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations. The committee has been tasked with providing recommendations to the FAA for performance-based regulatory requirements to normalize safe, scalable, economically viable, and environmentally friendly drone flights.

Over the next six months, the committee is set to submit a recommendations report to the FAA.

“This committee will consider the safety, security and environmental needs, as well as societal benefits, of these operations,” said Steve Dickson, FAA administrator during his keynote address at the symposium. “I think we can all agree this is a big step forward, and it will help pave the way for routine package delivery, infrastructure inspection, and other more complex drone operations beyond the visual line-of-sight of the remote pilot.”

There are 90 organizations proposed to be members of the BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which is co-chaired by Jay Merkle, who is Executive Director of the FAA UAS Integration Office, alongside Eileen Lockhart of Xcel Energy and Sean Cassidy of Amazon Prime Air.

You can view the full list of proposed member organizations here, but standouts include the ACLU and EFF representing the privacy aspect. Then there’s ASTM International, which has been working to develop standards related to aspects of drones including Remote ID, drone parachutes and more. Private tech companies working to improve technology and network infrastructure interests include Aloft (formerly Kittyhawk), AirMap, ANRA and Iris Automation. And on the drone delivery side, major tech companies involved include Amazon Prime Air and Wing, the sister company of Google.

Many of those organizations sit on other various FAA committees, research groups or test projects, such as the ASSURE program and the BEYOND program. The Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) was set up in hopes that universities will research how to integrate drones into U.S. airspace, and has provided millions of dollars in funding. And as part of the FAA’s BEYOND program, eight organizations are working on drone missions with the intent to develop performance-based standards, collect community feedback, and study how we can streamline the approval processes for UAS integration.

And BVLOS flights are especially important to study. Most drone use cases that come to mind, such as drone delivery, would not be possible unless drones could fly outside of the operator’s line of sight — which is currently not permitted by the FAA without a BVLOS waiver. Right now, BVLOS waivers are incredibly tough to get.

But thanks in part to work the BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee is capable of doing, waivers might not even be needed in the future. The committee has a charter expiration date of Feb. 8, 2024.

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